Oh how the mighty have fallen. This time last year, Manchester United were celebrating an unprecedented era of dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson as the Scot announced his long-overdue retirement. Now however, they find themselves staring into the footballing abyss with the future incredibly uncertain, following the revelation this morning that David Moyes has been relieved of his duties after just 10 months at Old Trafford.
Admittedly, it’s hard to argue that Moyes’ single campaign with United wasn’t a complete catastrophe from start to finish. The Red Devils have now mathematically secured their worst points total of the Premier League era, and unless they claim four points from their remaining four games, United will also record the worst title defence in Premier League history.
Most worryingly, Moyes’ best patch in the Carrington dugout was a ten-match unbeaten streak, rather miserly in the grand scheme of things, and with his win record from Everton last season so disturbingly similar to his inaugural campaign with Manchester United, it seems the club’s board shared the growing opinion that the Scot had somehow ‘Evertonised’ the Premier League champions.
But in my opinion at least, the axed United gaffer should have been given more time. Manchester United were happy enough to stand proudly tall in the summer with a smug grin over their proverbial face upon the announcement that David Moyes had been issued a six year contract, as if to make their own poignant statement on the current state of managerial affairs in the English game, yet just ten months later, and rather hypocritically, they’ve found themselves committing the same sin they once mocked Chelsea, Manchester City and pretty much every other side in the Premier League for.
Likewise, Ferguson was famed for his many deconstructions of title winning teams, but despite implied assurances otherwise, Moyes hasn’t been allowed to do the same. I’m no great Moyes apologist, but I’m sure even the Scot’s biggest critics would be willing to admit that certain players have routinely let him down this season. We’ve heard of managers losing the dressing room before, in fact, many have argued that Moyes never won it at Carrington, but you wouldn’t expect that kind of buck-passing mentality from a squad bursting with prior Premier League winners.
Ten months ago, Manchester United were rest assured that the club’s experience, infrastructure and reputation could withstand any debasing tremor of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. So much so that they rejected notions of a Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti figure – the qualified custodian model of manager – taking their dugout, in favour of a head coach who had never made it to the Champions League proper or won a single trophy throughout a decade at his former club.
At the time, it was labelled as an inspired appointment, showing the faith that others daren’t in a British coach, but less than a year later, it feels almost as if their vanity, this belief in Carrington’s divine right, was perhaps their biggest motivation.
You can feel their sense of arrogance in the transfer market too, the idea that, despite losing the monolithic title credentials of Sir Alex Ferguson, his quality in the dugout didn’t need replacing on the pitch. Much has been made of Moyes’ two transfer windows as United boss and his limited ability to attract top targets. When a club are prepared to bid £30million for Ander Herrera but not meet his release clause of £36million however, it’s incredibly telling of the state of mind around the Carrington camp, as if the Red Devils’ prestigious past gives them free reign over transfer fees.
Indeed, whilst Chelsea and Manchester City have continually spent big and United have continually spent smaller over the last five years or so, this idea that the Red Devils view themselves as above others in the transfer market is certainly nothing new. Following the current campaign and the loss of their Champions League status, reverting that trend may be United’s only route back to the top.
Similarly, there’s something paradoxical about Sir Alex Ferguson’s involvement in the decision-making process surrounding Moyes’ appointment. This is a manager who has spent the last three decades making sure no player, no matter how talented, valuable or vital to the Old Trafford cause, became bigger than the club itself. Yet despite that being a core value of the Scot’s leadership, he was allowed to pick his successor, presumably seeing a lot of his own hard-nosed character in David Moyes.
If that’s not a glaring example of one man taking unhealthy autonomous authority over a football club, then I don’t know what is. And as we’ve witnessed over the course of the last ten months, the nature in which Manchester United institutionalised itself around Sir Alex Ferguson, in the long run, has done the club no favours. The instability in the Manchester City and Chelsea dugouts can hardly be considered commendable trends, but with none of their appointments – even Jose Mourinho – becoming too powerful for their own good, at least they can boast a consistency of results whilst switching between regimes.
Manchester United have used the words ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ to describe David Moyes’ abrupt departure, yet the way in which the story seeped out of the Carrington Camp lacked either. They’ve fallen into the ancient trap of scapegoating a manager that less than a year ago was issued a six-season contract.
Are the Red Devils hypocrites? Perhaps that’s a rather scathing critique; the Glazers, assisted by Ferguson, clearly appointed David Moyes with the best intentions, yet, as with the vast majority of Premier League management gigs nowadays, it hasn’t worked out as expected. Admittedly, there’s been little to suggest in the last few weeks that a drastic change in on-pitch fortunes under Moyes was just around the corner.
But following a summer in which, through their own vanity, United turned their nose up at world-class managers and world-class transfer targets, as if they were somehow morally above it all and could maintain results without giving into modern temptations, perhaps this season has taught the Old Trafford outfit that they’re no different to any other club, with no divine right to success.